Returned!

I’m back from London, and it was a lovely trip. We had remarkably good weather, but then that always happens to me—I’ve been told London loves me so much, the sun shines when I’m there and then the city cries when I leave. Don’t know if that’s true, but I like to think it is.

Also, saw lots of magpies. I don’t know why, but I really like them. I want to write a play called “The Mad Magpie.” I don’t know what it would be about, but I think it’s a great title.

Enjoyed a trip to Buckingham Palace, and also Hamlet. Am slowly posting reviews of backlogged shows, movies, books on spooklights, so go take a look.

But now it’s also time to get back to work. So many projects going on . . . And can you believe it’s almost October?! So I’m ducking out again now to get stuff done. But visit my Facebook page for pics from the trip!

Insecurities

I haven’t officially joined this whole Insecure Writers thing, but I thought I’d throw in my two cents anyway. I have seven agents reading Peter, which is nerve wracking in and of itself, but I’m mostly insecure about my ability to keep up with this site. I really, really want to finish “Hamlette” for all the readers who have been enjoying it, but my chief priority is to finish Changers before DFW Con . . . And I have production meetings for the scripts (via Skype and Google Hangouts, which means I have to put clothes on and brush my hair) . . . Ack! I’m approaching meltdown.

It doesn’t help that we’re in the last couple weeks of school. There are a ton of activities and things to get done, and then the kids will be home and my ability to write in peace will be stunted.

Yeah, I feel like I’m juggling and struggling to keep all the balls in the air.

I know I can do it, though. I know if I just breathe and focus, take each day as it comes, all will be well. It’s just so easy to get caught in the whirlwind—or make your own whirlwind as you turn circles.

Here’s to stopping and standing in the eye of the storm.

If You’re Gone

I’d been doing really well there with my posts for a while. But suddenly I’m busy again . . . A good thing for a writer.

I’ll be attending DFW Writers Conference in July, which has spurred me to try and finish the draft of Changers before then. If I write a minimum of 300 words per day, I’ll be done on July 19. Just enough time to eke in one small edit. BUT. If I can finish it even a little bit earlier, my writing group might have time to give me feedback so I can do a much bigger tidying up. Here’s hoping.

Meanwhile, I also have this screenplay I’m co-writing. That needs to get done sooner rather than later as well.

I do hope to be able to continue “Hamlette,” too. I’ve received a lot of enthusiastic feedback for it.

This afternoon, having hit a snag in Changers, I went for a walk:

1. “Sleep ‘Til the War is Over” by Rob Thomas
2. “Kyrie” by Mr. Mister
3. “Pompeii” by Bastille
4. “I Will Wait” by Mumford & Sons
5. “Feel Again” by OneRepublic
6. “It’s All Been Done” by Barenaked Ladies
7. “California 37” by Train
8. “When We Dance” by Sting
9. “Just Say Yes” by Snow Patrol

Wow. Heavy, and yet I loved this playlist. It might be overstating things to say there’s a sense of destiny in it, and yearning. Good, strong emotions, which I needed because I’m writing an emotional scene. It doesn’t seem like 300 words per day would be much to ask, but when you’re stuck, it’s like trying to drive through deep mud. Luckily, I have 4WD.

A lot of things happening, and I’m feeling buzzy, which makes it difficult to sit and write.

Press releases are being drawn up (and I’m being asked for quotes!), and tickets to see Hamlet in London in September (and we all know how I do love Hamlet) . . . And then the little things in life like trying to recover from pneumonia, and trying to keep the kids busy during spring break . . . Makes for a very unsettled kind of week, in both good ways and bad. I hope the good things continue to happen, but I also hope I can get back to a normal routine and back to work, too. Because the good things can’t happen if I don’t put forth some effort.

I’ll call it a break. I mean, we were going all out through Monday on the film treatment, so a little down time is not uncalled for. But still, kids go back to school on Tuesday, so I need to be ready to get back to work by then. In the meantime, I’ll try to relax, though it’s proving difficult; I’m very restless and keyed up. All this excitement can’t be good for me.

Blacksmithing

I seem to have a lot of irons in the fire at the moment. I’ve got agents reading Peter—some have the original manuscript, and some have the revised version. It’s tough having to wait to hear anything back . . . All communication seems to have dried up in the last week or so. (Maybe they’re all basketball fans?)

In the meantime, to keep myself busy, I’ve started poking at Changers again. It’s about 40% done. I do still like the story and hope to finish the draft relatively soon.

But I have a more pressing deadline: a film treatment due this Friday. I’ve started on it and submitted it to my writing partners for feedback. We’ll see what they have to say, but they’d better say it soon if it’s going to get done on time!

And we’re still in negotiations for the rom-com, waiting to hear from the attorney on that. Lots of waiting going on, really, which isn’t something I’m good at. I feel like this is all a cosmic lesson in patience.

Now and then, I do also hope to continue posting Hamlette, since it gets a lot of hits here on the site. Maybe that will turn into another YA novel?

Well then, time to start hammering away. Here’s hoping at least one of these irons can be pounded into a work of art.

Stats

So here is where things stand in regards to various projects of mine:

1. I’ve finished a rewrite of “St. Peter in Chains” (the first part of The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller). There’s a lot of new content, so I’m having my critique readers look it over to make sure I keep a consistent tone.

2. Because of my focus on Peter, I haven’t been working on Changers at all, so it remains half finished.

3. But I am doing this fun Hamlette thing just as a kind of writing joyride.

4. I had two scripts make quarterfinals in a competition. Only one of the two made semis, but that’s okay, I’ll take what I can get.

5. Have been collaborating on some other scripts as well . . .

6. And negotiations for the rom-com script I co-wrote continue. Hopefully we’ll get things settled soon.

In short, a lot going on. I have an unfinished Sherlock Holmes story sitting in the wings as well. And the K-Pro sequel. But my priority is to get Peter fixed up and sent back out to the couple of agents who want to see it again. Everything else is jostling for second place.

TBT: Good Wife’s Guide

Having inundated you with parageography of late (look back a couple days for a parageographical writing prompt if you must), I’m going a little lighter this week for Throwback Thursday. This is an article from Housekeeping Monthly dated 13 May 1955. I used it with my Shakespeare students when we were studying Taming of the Shrew. The title of the article: “The good wife’s guide”

•Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready, on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal (especially his favourite dish) is part of the warm welcome needed.
•Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.
•Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.
•Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives.
•Gather up schoolbooks, toys, paper etc and then run a dustcloth over the tables.
•Over the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering for his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.
•Prepare the children. Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair and, if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part. Minimise all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet.
•Be happy to see him.
•Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.
•Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first – remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.
•Make the evening his. Never complain if he comes home late or goes out to dinner, or other places of entertainment without you. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his very real need to be at home and relax.
•Your goal: Try to make sure your home is a place of peace, order and tranquillity where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.
•Don’t greet him with with complaints and problems.
•Don’t complain if he’s late home for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day.
•Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or have him lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.
•Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice.
•Don’t ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.
•A good wife always knows her place.

You can imagine how amusing my students (ages 10–14, roughly) found all this! But it opened up good conversations about why, exactly, Taming of the Shrew is considered a comedy when it largely consists of Petruchio abusing Kate. I’ve found Shakespeare to be a good starting point for a lot of serious discussions with teens: heartbreak, suicide, forms of abuse within relationships, relationship problems in general, family problems . . . Literature makes a lot of these topics “safe” because the kids can disguise their personal concerns within the context of “the story.” You just have to lead them into the work so that they connect and identify with that story and the characters. You have to bring it in close to them. Shakespeare—and a lot of literature—seems very far away to young readers. Sometimes it’s the language that creates the gulf, and sometimes it’s just preconceived prejudice, but that’s the big obstacle. Once you bridge it, the kids often really get into it. And that’s fabulous to witness.

TBT: Old Journal Entries

I thought it would be funny/interesting to transcribe an old journal entry of mine for Throwback Thursday. Alas, my journals are actually really boring. Most entries seem to consist of me summarizing what happened on my favorite television shows. And then, of course, many more also describe the very strange and vivid dreams I’ve had. I find those interesting, but I don’t think many other people would.

I was trying to find something dated for March 27, but that was difficult, so I went for near hits. In spring of 1998 I was doing the Shakespeare at Winedale program, and I found some entries where that is mentioned. So much of that time is a whirlwind in my mind now—an impression, really, of feelings and colors, a collage of things that happened—that it’s strange to read my own writing from when it was actually happening. A lot of what I journaled I don’t really remember, and for whatever reason I also was very circumspect in my own diaries. For example:

1 March 1998

Daniel & Jace, Winedale 1998
Daniel & Jace, Winedale 1998
So Jace picked me up at 4:00 pm on Friday . . . That night, as people were going to bed, Daniel and May and Terry and I were in the dining hall, and Daniel wanted to know what Anne had told me about him, and having finally cornered me I admitted I’d heard the Stella story. Terry excused himself then and May said—because I’d started to go to bed and Daniel had asked, “Amanda, don’t you want to stay and talk?”—that she was going to bed, “since it appears you’re going to have a moment.” So I chatted with Daniel a while, and he swears he got over the whole Stella thing a long time ago . . . Then last night, after a day of hard work, we all drank beer and did some singing. I had one and Daniel had a couple and since neither of us drinks much, we were kinda fuzzy. So we went into the kitchen pantry and stole some marshmallows then went into the parlour and rocked and he told me his version of the Stella story—”This will probably be the only time I’ll be able to talk about it because I’ve been drinking,” he said.

And now I really wish I knew what this Stella story is or was because I can’t for the life of me remember. But then, I’ve always been the type people confide in. Probably because they know it’s safe to do so; I pack it up inside me and conveniently lose it in the stacks of other people’s baggage.

27 April 1998

We performed the first quarto of Hamlet on Friday and Saturday. On Friday I played Corambis . . . During the play, after my first big scene (advice to Laertes), everyone kept telling me to be louder. I started to get really frustrated what with my lungs and all, and Anna Lisa was trying desperately to keep me from crying. But then Alex came back and started to say, “You’ve just got to be—” and Anna Lisa was flagging him, trying to get him to stop, and I burst into tears. And I only had a few minutes before I had to be on stage, and my nose and makeup were running, and Alex was all confused, so Anna Lisa explained it to him and got me cleaned up and we did our scene. Afterwards, when I came around and up past the light booth to get in place for my next scene, Alex stopped me and said, “Amanda, about earlier, I’m sorry, I forgot, you’re doing great.” And he’d been crying harder than me.

I do have lung issues, a holdover from pneumonia as a baby; intermittent asthma and a percentage of my lungs don’t work well if at all. But I also know that I got louder after that first scene because I was determined, and because the audience’s reactions gave me great confidence:

After the show complete strangers came to tell me what a wonderful job I’d done. One man simply said, “Thank you. You were a joy to watch.”

That I do remember! And I remember the audience laughing at all the right moments. That’s always a good feeling.

This Is Me (Part XVII: The Shakespeare Thing)

I borrowed my love of Shakespeare from Lynn, my best friend’s mother. She was (is) like a second mother to me, always encouraging my creativity. And when I was still really young—eight or nine—she made me a calligraphy sign with a matte she had hand cut flowers into: “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

It’s from Hamlet, crazy Ophelia carrying on, but the words inspired me, and the fact that Lynn had thought to give them to me made me feel loved.

Much later I would perform Hamlet a few different times, then teach it to 9–12 year olds. Who loved it. So many people get tripped up by the language, but get the kids (and adults) past all that and the stories are fantastic. Stuff of soap operas.

In high school we were required to read the four major tragedies, one per year: Romeo and Juliet our freshman year, Julius Caesar our sophomore year, Macbeth our junior year, and finally Hamlet our senior year. Somewhere in there we also read Twelfth Night.

Because I was in honors English Lit, we did a bit more than the other classes. Our freshman year we rewrote Romeo and Juliet—I and one other writerly student were the writing team—into a New York mob/gangster story. (Yes, before Baz did it!) I then played Lord Capulet with a ponytail, sunglasses, a Hawaiian shirt, and a thick Brooklyn accent. Our teacher videotaped it. For the next three years, freshman would come to me and say, “You’re Lord Capulet!”

For Julius Caesar I was Cassius. For Macbeth, the Third Witch. And for Hamlet I was at one point Ophelia, then asked to switch to Hamlet. For Twelfth Night, I was Viola. (I was also Thoreau in The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail.)

When I went off to uni, I took some drama/acting classes to fulfill a requirement and had my teacher suggest I make theatre my major; only majors could take the higher-level courses, you see. But even as a non-major, I was able to participate in showcases. I did stuff from Sexual Perversity in Chicago (something about a naked la-la is all I recall), Holiday, Picnic . . . And when I did a scene from Crimes of the Heart with a thick Southern accent then came off stage and spoke in my normal voice, I got yelps of surprise—it seems everyone had assumed the accent was my normal voice. (I’m a natural mimic, which is why my kids love me to read to them; I do all the voices.)

My Winedale Class
My Winedale Class
Oh, but Shakespeare. Still and always my favorite. I once saw William Shatner interview Patrick Stewart, and Stewart said something about how Shakespeare came naturally to him, he never had any trouble with the language. It made sense to him. And that’s how it was for me, too. I read and understood. The language barrier simply didn’t exist for me. But then, that was true for poetry as well. I am programmed for these things.

So then I found out about Winedale. And signed right up. And we did Hamlet! But the First Quarto, which is somewhat different from the known text.

The class was actually titled “Shakespeare Through Performance,” and a lot of kids had signed up thinking they would be watching a bunch of Lawrence Olivier movies or something. But a few of us had friends who’d done the course, so we knew the truth. And we were stoked. Once a big group had dropped the class, a core group of us were left. For months we would live together on weekends, practice almost every night . . . It was such a camaraderie.

The auditions were a bit strange. Everyone would participate in the show, and everyone would have two parts: one for the first night, a different one for the second. We were given Kenneth Patchen poems to memorize for the auditions so that Doc Ayers and Madge could decide what our roles would be. My poem began: “Because to really ponder/one needs wonder” . . . I was cast as Corambis, which was the name of the character most people now know as Polonius. (For the second night I was the Murderer in the play and a mere herald, the idea being I shouldn’t be given too many more things to memorize.)

When I perform, I can’t ever remember it afterward. But I suppose I did well since I had people coming up after the show to thank me. I knew that, because the audience was laughing when they were supposed to, it must have been all right. And I was able to cover when Hamlet almost forgot to join me on stage for our discussion of cloud shapes.

Later, having moved to Massachusetts, I was asked to teach Shakespeare at a summer camp. It was surprisingly a very big hit. “My kid won’t stop talking about Shakespeare!” parents kept telling the camp director. And, “I wish we’d learned it that way. I might have liked it more.” I taught Hamlet the first summer, Romeo and Juliet the second, Taming of the Shrew the third, and Macbeth the fourth. Then we moved.

My Hamlet and Macbeth students opted to rewrite and play with the stories. My R&J and TotS students wanted to do the pieces as written. I always gave the class the choice. First rule: Don’t shove it down their throats. If you do, they’ll only gag on it and spit it all up.

I found that discussing the plays opened the door to discussing much bigger issues: suicide, abuse (cuz Petruchio isn’t really very nice to Kate). In every instance it was the kids who broached the topic. But my natural counselor instincts kicked in, and it made for interesting conversation. Later, the girls would ask me for advice about this or that boy, and one of my male students wanted to talk in private about a friend who cut herself, while another wanted to relieve himself of the story of a friend’s brother’s suicide. I like when my students trust me and are comfortable with me.

I don’t have students any more, and I haven’t done any Shakespeare in a long while, but I still enjoy him whenever I get the opportunity. Joss Whedon’s Much Ado was a real treat. And I do believe it’s better to either watch or perform Shakespeare than to read his plays. (Sonnets, you ask . . . Well, I’ve read them . . . But it’s the plays I really like.) Not sure what the educational system hopes to accomplish by having kids read a play, any play, really. Maybe to introduce them to the form? What it looks like on a page? But then, too, plays published for reading versus those published for performance often look different.

I always reminded my students that Shakespeare wasn’t writing to be lofty. He was trying to crank out the next blockbuster play (since there was no film in his day). We treat the work with such reverence, but that’s a bit silly. Better to come at it with a sense of fun. We wouldn’t treat a copy of a Michael Bay script as something to be venerated. No more should we Shakespeare’s plays. To put things on a pedestal automatically makes them distant and untouchable. Shakespeare should be something you get into, like a pit of mud. Wallow in it, splash around. You’ll enjoy it a lot more that way.